Voters in Rhode Island’ will face several local ballot questions Tuesday, mostly for for local school bonds.
Rhode Island is in the midst of a state-backed overhaul of its educational facilities, many of which are deemed to be outdated and in need of replacement or renovation, and local officials hoping to tap a state reimbursement plan that could drastically cut costs have until December before it expires.
North Kingstown’s is requesting up to$222.4 million of bonds, $167 million of which will go towards to construction of a new consolidated middle school building capable of housing 900 students. The remaining $55 million would fund a new public safety facility for the town of 27,000.
In a separate measure, North Kingstown voters will also decide on a separate proposal seeking $25 million for an indoor recreation center that would double as an emergency shelter.
School officials say the new school is necessary to meet expectations for growing enrollment and replace outdated facilities.
The middle school’s construction will cost the town around $130 million, according to estimates, and proponents have said the timing of the bond vote is critical if North Kingstown wants to take advantage of the state-run School Housing Aid program.
The program reimburses municipalities a minimum of 35% of the costs of approved projects, with eligibility for another 20 to 25% reduction based on the inclusion of several factors in design plans, including efforts to consolidate existing facilities, implementation of specialized educational programs, and success in decreasing overcrowding.
In a move meant to help accelerate school development in Rhode Island, however, the program has a hard stop date, and local authorities must have shovel-ready projects approved by Dec. 30 to be eligible.
Officials in North Kingstown said if the middle school project is approved for the maximum amount of state reimbursement, the city could end up paying as low as $58.5 million, with the cost to taxpayers in the end varying based on what reductions are realized.
The largest bond measure in Rhode Island Tuesday is in the town of Barrington, where voters will decide on $250 million of bonds meant for the construction, and renovation of district public schools. Owners of homes valued at $400,000 in the area will see an annual increase of $768 according to the city’s tax calculator.
Voters in the Bristol Warren Regional School District will be asked to approve up to $200 million in bonds meant for a new high school and athletics facility as well as the renovation of the district’s middle school.
Officials said they’ll be eligible for at least 55% reimbursement from the state if the bonds are approved now before the December deadline. Debt service will be backed by increases in local property taxes that vary by house value; according to the city’s project tax calculator, Bristol residents with a home valued at $450,000 would see an up to $216 annual increase and up to $373 in Warren.
East Greenwich voters will be asked to approve $150 million for a new elementary school in addition to renovations and improvements to several other schools.
To cover debt service on the bonds, the town’s projections show residents with homes valued at $500,000 would see an annual tax increase of $244 by 2025 and $297 by 2030.
Cumberland is seeking $52 million of bonds for the construction of a new elementary school, with $10 million slated for improvement across existing facilities. The impact on taxpayers may vary depending on the reimbursements realized, as well as the planned retirement of existing debt that could further affect rates, according to the plans.
In Lincoln, voters will be asked to approve $25 million of bonds for the construction, and rehabilitation of the city’s elementary schools, as well as another $14 million to finance the construction of a new town-wide centralized rescue station.
Local officials said taxpayers would likely not see an increase in rates if the new bonds were passed due to the combination of state reimbursements and the retirement of existing debt.
In Middletown, officials are seeking $170 million for a new combined middle-high school property, with wings for grades 6-8 and grades 9-12, as well as shared gyms, auditoriums, and other spaces. Official estimates expect a rate increase of $490 annually for residents with homes valued between $400,000 and $500,000.
Also on the ballot is a bond question in North Smithfield for $18 million for a new police station.
Tuesday’s vote will decide two special elections; in Rhode Island’s 1st Congressional District Democrat Gabe Amo and Republican Gerry Leonard go head-to-head to fill U.S. Rep. David Cicilline’s position, which has been vacant since June when he stepped down to take a job leading the Rhode Island Foundation.
Voters in parts of Providence will also choose between Democrat Jake Bissaillon and Republican Niyoka Powell in a special state Senate election to fill the vacant seat of the late Maryellen Goodwin.